A Swiss lawyer who was the U.S. government’s star witness in the 2009 bribery trial of American businessman Frederic Bourke resigned from the board of Hyposwiss Private Bank Ltd. amid allegations that he orchestrated a new money-laundering scheme.
The lawyer, Hans Bodmer, announced his immediate resignation in a statement issued today by Hyposwiss’s parent, St. Galler Kantonalbank AG, a regional bank based in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
Bodmer pleaded guilty to money laundering and testified for U.S. prosecutors at Bourke’s 2009 trial for paying bribes in a decade-old oil deal in Azerbaijan. This year, Bodmer was reappointed to Hyposwiss’s board, on which he’d sat while structuring bribes in the 1998 oil deal. Separately, in August Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska filed a legal complaint in Switzerland saying Bodmer organized a scheme to loot MMC Norilsk Nickel OJSC, a nickel producer in which Deripaska invests.
“It’s obviously in our interest to clear this up as quickly as possible,” Roland Ledergerber, chairman of St. Galler Kantonalbank and chairman of the administrative board at Hyposwiss, said in a conference call today. Bodmer’s new alleged laundering scheme was done at a time when he “was not active as director of Hyposwiss Private bank,” the bank’s statement said.
The resignation comes six days before a New York judge hears arguments on Bourke’s claim, filed in March, that Bodmer lied at the bribery trial. Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, whose office prosecuted the Bourke bribery case, declined to comment. Bourke is appealing his conviction for conspiracy to pay bribes in the oil deal.
Bodmer’s lawyer, Saul Pilchen, didn’t immediately return a call. A spokesman for the lawyer who brought the suit against Bodmer, Hans Baumgartner, declined to comment on Bodmer’s resignation.
After pleading guilty in the U.S. and agreeing to testify against Bourke, Bodmer was allowed to return to Zurich to resume his law practice. According to Deripaska’s complaint, he did work in 2010 for billionaire Vladimir Potanin and his Interros Holding Co., which holds about 30 percent of Norilsk. Deripaska’s United Co. Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, owns 25 percent of Norilsk. The two are fighting over control.
Deripaska’s complaint claimed Bodmer helped loot Norilsk, the largest producer of the metal, using “a remarkably large number of offshore companies” that Bodmer set up. At the Bourke trial, Bodmer also testified about offshore companies that he established in 1998 to help the oil deal’s promoter, Viktor Kozeny, pay bribes to Azeri leaders.
Ledergerber said on today’s conference call that the bank’s auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, will “investigate the issue” and report to the bank’s board in coming weeks. The bank said in its statement that it’s not suspected of wrongdoing and that Swiss prosecutors have rejected Deripaska’s complaint that Potanin and Bodmer stole $1 billion from Norlisk.
Deripaska subsequently brought the complaint to the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority.
“We’re cooperating fully with FINMA,” Ledergerber said.
When Hyposwiss reappointed Bodmer to its board this earlier this year, the bank cited his “years of management experience in private banking.” At the time, Bodmer’s lawyer, Pilchen, said Bodmer’s involvement in the Bourke case and oil deal “did not involve any violations of Swiss law.”
Bourke, the co-founder of handbag maker Dooney & Bourke, was convicted in 2009 of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. anti-bribery law, and sentenced to a year in prison.
Kozeny, who was also charged by U.S. prosecutors, is fighting extradition from the Bahamas to the U.S. The U.K.-based Privy Council, the final appeals court for some Commonwealth nations, will hear arguments on Nov. 23 over the U.S. request to extradite Kozeny.
Bodmer has yet to be sentenced for money laundering over his role in Kozeny’s bribery scheme. The case is pending as prosecutors wait to see whether Kozeny will be extradited. Bodmer has agreed to testify against Kozeny.
The Bourke case is U.S. v. Bourke, 05-cr-00518, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).